This chapter is functionally a prologue, as the central characters set up some expectations to topple.
Lucy Maud Montgomery might not be a “great” author (she seems to be the sort of author who has approximately one really good story in her), but she manages to depict the life of one girl with aplomb, and that in itself is worthwhile.
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by the brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and the wherefores thereof.
I love how Montgomery simultaneously sets the scene and hints at character development here in the very first paragraph. And glories in the Canadian countryside (which is not entirely unlike the landscape of Michigan).
Then Rachel notices something odd (as is her self-appointed task): Matthew Cuthbert driving a seemingly considerable distance.
Now, where was Matthew Cuthbert going and why was he going there?
Had it been any other man in Avonlea, Mrs. Rachel, deftly putting this and that together, might have given a pretty good guess as to both questions. But Matthew so rarely went from home that it must be something pressing and unusual which was taking him; he was the shyest man alive and hated to go among strangers or to any place where he might have to talk. Matthew, dressed up with a white collar and driving a in a buggy, was something that didn’t happen often. Mrs. Rachel, ponder as she might, could make nothing of it and her afternoon’s enjoyment was spoiled.
As implied by the opening paragraph, the Cuthberts are something of a mystery to Mrs. Lynde, so she quite sensibly heads over to their house to investigate (Matthew and Marilla are brother and sister).
Something that for lack any other name might be called friendship existed and always had existed between Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs. Rachel Lynde, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their dissimilarity. […] [Marilla] looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about the mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor.
As it turns out, the Cuthberts have been secretly considering/plotting to adopt a boy from a Canadian orphanage, mainly to procure “free” labor (as Matthew is getting up in years and having some heart troubles).
After Mrs. Rachel has thoroughly trashed the idea of a bringing a strange child into one’s house (so thoroughly as to give Marilla second thoughts, especially since the idea originated with Matthew), she proceeds to take pity on the prospective child.
“Matthew and Marilla don’t know anything about children and they’ll expect him to be wiser and steadier than his own grandfather, if he ever had a grandfather, which is doubtful. It seems uncanny to think of a child at Green Gables somehow […]. I wouldn’t be in that orphan’s shoes for anything. My, but I pity him, that’s what.”
Until next time…